Priest Assault Trial Nearing Conclusion in Calif.
By Paul Elias
July 2, 2012
Retired Jesuit priest Jerold Lindner was last seen in court more than a week ago, scurrying down a back staircase as a woman demanded he look her in the eye while she accused him of sexual assault.
Still, the thought of Lindner loomed large Monday during closing arguments in the trial of William Lynch, who is accused of pummeling Lindner with his fists on May 10, 2010, at a home where the Catholic Church sends priests accused of abuse.
Prosecutor Vicki Gemetti called Lynch a "vigilante" and implored jurors to convict him of felony assault and elder abuse. She told jurors that Lynch's testimony about his alleged sexual abuse by Lindner was no excuse for beating up the priest 37 years later.
She also stressed that Lynch acknowledged hitting the priest multiple times.
"It was compelling, moving and emotional," Gemetti said of Lynch's testimony. "But he admitted his crime. He admitted his actions."
Gemetti also pointed out that Lynch put on gloves before entering Sacred Heart Jesuit Center and told Lindner to take off his glasses before striking him. She displayed several photographs of a bloodied, bruised Lindner that were taken by police a few hours later.
"This man was pummeled," Gemetti said, noting that everyone deserves justice. "People are prosecuted for robbing their drug dealer. ... Two wrongs don't make a right."
Defense attorney Paul Mones told jurors it was not an act of revenge. Instead, Lynch still felt threatened by Lindner and his memories of the abuse that Mones called torture.
Those "threats were with him up to May 10, 2010," the lawyer said.
Lynch claims Lindner abused him in a tent during a 1975 camping trip. The Catholic Church paid $625,000 to settle a lawsuit involving the claim.
Lynch testified during the trial that he only wanted Lindner sign a written confession but turned to violence after feeling threatened by the demeanor of the priest.
Lindner also took the witness stand and denied abusing Lynch. Proceedings ended for the day a short time later.
The next day, Lindner's attorney notified the court that his client was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would not testify further for fear of a perjury prosecution.
The judge ordered Lindner's previous testimony stricken from the trial record and told jurors to ignore what the former priest had said.
Lindner, unaware of the court's orders, was verbally accosted by Debbie Lukas on June 21, as he tried to enter the courtroom.
"Look me in the eye," she screamed at Lindner, who was hustled down the stairway and hasn't returned since.
Pat Harris, another defense attorney, asked the jury why Lindner was allowed to lie about abusing Lynch. He contended the retired priest was seeking his own brand of revenge by denying abuse took place.
"Does that strike anyone as strange?" Harris asked.
The morning session ended abruptly when prosecutors accused Harris of urging jurors to use their power of "nullification" to acquit Lynch. Jurors are allowed to acquit defendants they believe to be technically guilty but don't deserve punishment.
However, defense attorneys are not allowed to argue for that verdict, and Gemetti objected when Harris began telling jurors they have the power to keep overzealous prosecutors in check.
Judge David Cena sent jurors to an early lunch to consider whether Harris could keep discussing prosecutorial discretion during his closing argument. The jury is expected to begin deliberations later in the day or early Tuesday.
Lynch could face up to four years in prison if convicted.